Eschatology and World Affairs
‘Eschatology’ (intended or hoped for end times) sounds a rather esoteric interest of religious elite, easily deleted from relevance by most of humanity – that is unless or until it intrudes dangerously into world affairs. A respected Australian diplomat reflected with me this week that Israel/Palestine has entered a post Oslo period dominated by religious eschatology.
What did he mean?
In 1993 and 1995 a way forward to peace and autonomy for Palestinians and Israelis was forged between Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat known as the Oslo accords. From it a road map was developed which planned a two-state solution based on 1967 borders with East Jerusalem serving as the Palestinian capital. Piece by piece this hoped for outcome, initially imagined within five years, has been demolished, leaving little realistic hope of its fulfilment.
Religious eschatology has significantly contributed to this disastrous outcome, filling the void with suspicion at best, and hatred at worst.
Christian: I find it intensely embarrassing and very upsetting to speak of Christian eschatology that is profoundly reshaping Palestinian life under suppression and occupation. Surely it is none of our business? Right, it is not. But the simple truth is that Israel could not so boldly colonise the Palestinians territories were it not for support from the United States of America. Further, US support for Israel has little to do with Israel and everything to do with domestic US politics. The evangelical right believes the rise of ‘Greater Israel’, sovereignty over all the lands assumed to have been encompassed by the ancient kingdoms of Judea and Israel (Samaria) BC, will hasten the second coming of Christ. It is Trump’s reliance on the US evangelical right at the ballot box that drives him to be “Israel’s best friend” and supporter of all that Israel does to make a viable autonomous Palestinian State impossible to achieve. While it suits Trump politically to espouse Christian affiliation, it is clear that he has not embraced Christian ethics or morality, rather, in the mould of Emperors before him, he sees himself as a demi-god, beyond contradiction, endowed with divine authority – not least in this matter.
It is a matter of intense shame that this version of Christianity has tentacles in Australian life, including Australian political life and that gross human rights violations against Palestinians are tolerated or condoned in the pursuit of a sought after and desired end game that is believed to have divine sanction.
Jewish: It is undeniably the fact that the settler movement comprises immigrants from Europe and the US who have messianic designs that support and mirror misplaced Christian messianic hope. Palestinians are increasingly harassed and abused by settlers who tell them they (the Palestinians) are settlers on their property, that it is Jewish property. In other words, the settler movement claims the Palestinians who have lived there for generations are the illegitimate ones, not newcomers who have been given a privileged economic advantage to settle from another part of the world.
These extremist views now have an almost vetoing capacity in the Knesset.
Muslim: The Palestine/Israel impasse is not about religion but ethnicity, but religion is developing ominous significance. When I visited Ramallah for the first-time 20+ years ago the city was not as distinctively Muslim as it has now become. Of course, all Palestinians are not Muslim, there are clearly many Arabs with no religious identity, like citizens of every country throughout the world. It used to be the case that the Christian Arab population of Palestine exceeded 20 percent. Now it is barely measurable. In a visit to Palestine/Israel last year I met with two Anglican Palestinian priests who told me that being an Arab Christian is now infinitely harder because of pressure, even intimidation, from some sectors of the Arab Muslim community. One of the priests told me that he has reluctantly concluded the best thing for his congregation is for them to migrate.
While in no way excusing intolerance towards minority religious affiliation, I do in part understand the reason for the rising importance of Islamic identity amongst Palestinians. When you are oppressed, when human rights are denied, when identity is threatened, promoting identity which sets you apart from the oppressor becomes even more important. Palestinians are not fools, they know the oppression they endure is supported, even encouraged, by Christian fundamentalism.
And so, I find myself in reluctant agreement with my friend the Australian diplomat who claims the present situation in Palestine/Israel is being influenced by, if not driven by, religious eschatology. The ramping up of one brand ignites the ramping up of the other.
All of this must be exasperating to moderate Jews, Muslims and Christians who see the faith that is dear to them being captured for illegitimate and dangerous reasons.
It is especially exasperating to me because of the eschatology laid out in the last book of the bible the Revelation of St John the Divine. As the Bible begins with creation, it ends with creation. As it begins with the Tree of Life, so it ends. In this eschatology the whole created order is to be redeemed. We all belong together. There is no existence outside common existence. There is no life outside shared difference.
It used to be that Muslim, Christian and Jewish children played together in the villages and streets of Palestine. It used to be the case that adults tended the graves of one another’s ancestors.
It could be the case again. There is no other future. Many think we live in a much-improved world. Have another look. There is more division and polarisation than there used be. This division and polarisation is supported, promoted, by people in authority. Yes, in some respects the world of today is better than the world of yesterday, but in the all-important matter of harmony, justice, respect and goodwill, truth appears to have slipped from sight.
There is no future for Palestine or Israel in identities of exclusion. There should be no tolerance either for Christianity, Judaism or Islam if the contribution they make to world affairs is a subterfuge, smoke and mirrors, and conspiracy theory, particularly when they have in their possession an eschatological narrative that expects nothing less than the embracing of the whole created order, where difference is gift beyond measure within the embrace of the Tree of Life.